emotional support dog

How To Get A Dog Certified As An Emotional Support Animal

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It cannot be denied that dogs provide us with emotional benefits and support. For some of us, it’s a lifeline, but frustratingly it isn’t always recognised by the likes of landlords, housing associations or airlines. 

However, the rules are changing. It’s now possible to have your dog registered as an emotional support animal (ESA), a status recognised by law that can help you circumvent certain restrictions.

In this guide, we look at what you need to do to get your dog certified as an emotional support animal. We offer a step-by-step guide and dive deeper into the benefits of obtaining this status.

First, let’s take a look at what an emotional support dog (ESD) is.

What Is An Emotional Support Dog?

While every canine provides an emotional bond with their human companion, for an animal to be recognized as an emotional support dog, you need to meet certain criteria. 

Legally, this designation requires a licensed mental health professional to prescribe the pet to an individual suffering from a debilitating mental illness. It falls upon therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists to assess and affirm that the presence of such an animal is crucial to the patient’s mental well-being. 

For instance, the ownership of a pet may alleviate anxiety or provide a sense of purpose in your life. Taking care of your dog is just as rewarding for you as it is for them.

Any breed of dog that effectively mitigates symptoms associated with the mental illness or emotional distress can fulfill the role. Even shelter and rescue dogs possess the capacity to excel as ESDs.

It’s important to note that you can qualify for an ESA letter either before or after adopting a dog. The timing of obtaining the letter does not restrict your eligibility or the potential benefits an emotional support dog can provide.

Unlike service dogs, ESDs are not required to undergo specific training to perform tasks for their owners. The focus lies primarily on their innate ability to offer emotional support and alleviate distress. 

What Disabilities Qualify For Support From Your Dog?

Securing eligibility for anESD involves an evaluation by your therapist or another licensed healthcare professional. They will consider whether or not you possess a disability and assess whether the presence of an ESD would effectively mitigate the symptoms associated with your specific condition. 

For the purpose of qualifying for an ESD, a “disability” encompasses mental health conditions such as depression or severe anxiety that exert significant constraints on your daily life, such as sleeping, working, or learning.

How To Get A Dog Certified As An Emotional Support Animal

In the United States, to officially certify your dog as an emotional support animal, you need to obtain an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to proceed:

  1. Collaborate with a therapist well-versed in Emotional Support Animal regulations. You can either locate a therapist knowledgeable in this area or opt to work with an online ESA specialist, accessible through this platform.
  2. Establish a connection with your therapist. Openly and honestly discuss your circumstances with the therapist to allow them to evaluate whether you meet the criteria for an ESA letter.
  3. Request an ESA letter. An ESA letter is a formal document drafted by your therapist on their letterhead, containing specific language. Once you possess this letter, you can seek reasonable accommodations for both you and your dog, such as exemption from additional pet fees and access to apartments with “no-pet” policies.

What Are The Benefits Of Getting Your Dog Certified As An Emotional Support Animal

Emotional support animals are protected by federal and state laws when it comes to housing. They cannot be charged any pet fees or pet deposits. 

ESD owners have that right even if their building has a “no-pets” policy. Some airlines also accommodate valid emotional support animals as a courtesy.

Housing And Emotional Support Dogs

In a momentous development during January 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing introduced updated guidelines that have far-reaching implications for the inclusion of Emotional Support Dogs (ESDs) in housing. The guidance from HUD unequivocally establishes the responsibility of landlords to offer reasonable accommodations to tenants holding valid ESA letters from licensed healthcare professionals.

HUD, with commendable foresight, issues a specific warning against websites that peddle certifications, licenses, and registrations for the purpose of qualifying animals as emotional support companions. This cautionary message aims to safeguard individuals from falling victim to deceptive practices and ensures that ESA documentation remains trustworthy and genuine.

Furthermore, HUD has taken a significant stride forward by confirming that licensed healthcare professionals are authorized to provide ESA-related services remotely, including through online consultations. This groundbreaking development holds immense significance for individuals confronting mental illness, removing barriers that hindered in-person therapy—whether due to financial constraints, demanding schedules, or geographic distance.

The implications of these advances are nothing short of remarkable, as they expand the rights and opportunities available to individuals affected by mental health conditions, granting them access to the unwavering support and companionship of Emotional Support Dogs.

Can You Take An Emotional Support Dog On A Flight?

Since January 2021, Airlines are no longer obligated to accommodate ESAs. However, some airlines continue to do so on a voluntary basis This came as a result of a change in the law by the US Department of Transportation, which many dog owners have lamented. 

Many airlines have cut their ESA offerings, but some still do. It’s best to check before you book to be sure. Some airlines may now impose charges to take your dog onboard with you. 

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